‘Our freedom struggle is inseparable from the labor movement’: Announcing the JVP Union

“The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is, as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.”

Palestinian Marxist, writer, and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani

On Wednesday, my coworkers and I successfully organized a union at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the largest anti-Zionist Jewish organization in the United States. We are the first organization to unionize within the US-based Palestine solidarity movement and the latest addition to the surge of nonprofit unionization in this country. We are now proud members of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which is a sector of the Communication Workers of America.

As a Palestinian who has led the fight to organize this union since I joined staff three years ago, the power of this win is particularly personal to me. I was the first Palestinian field organizer hired at a predominantly white, Jewish Palestine solidarity organization, and my experience has been both deeply challenging and enriching. I have been treated with the utmost respect and dignity by other staff and consider many of them my dearest comrades. But because racism is a systemic issue, it frequently structured my interactions with well-meaning white Jewish people whom I met organizing in the field. Such interactions are not unique to JVP, or to this movement, but reflect the white supremacy that pervades all aspects of our lives in this society.  Still, these dynamics were infuriating and dehumanizing, and the only way I could continue working for Palestinian liberation at JVP was to organize my workplace. 

As the fight escalated over the last eight months, my coworkers and I — almost all of whom are Palestinians and Jews of color — poured our blood, sweat, and tears into researching, strategizing, and building the relationships that would later coalesce into a union. Many of us were drawn to this work not only because we are anti-Zionist socialists, anarchists, and leftists, but also for the same reason workers have organized their workplaces throughout history: our material conditions. We, like other progressive nonprofit workers, want to address the liberal racism that (predictably, but not inevitably) surfaces in majority-white organizations; the sacrificial, “do-it-for-the-cause,” burnout-inducing culture; and top-down, opaque decision-making about budgets, workload and job responsibilities, and how we show up in our movements for justice.

Every day since, we have worked to make JVP a more racially just organization — especially one that is more accountable to Palestinians (which should be the utmost priority for every organization that claims to be in solidarity with our people). I was part of a small group that spearheaded the efforts to lead a racial justice transformation in JVP. I, alongside another Palestinian staff organizer, founded a process for JVP to formally review and improve its policies and priorities in relation to Palestinian partner organizations. I also fought collectively with other BIPOC staff for better working conditions and protections for organizers of color. Eventually, my comrades and I recognized that we needed something that would consolidate and institutionalize our efforts in the long-term: a union.

We unionized because everybody — regardless of whether they are a hospitality worker, a carpenter, or a nonprofit worker — deserves dignity on the job, and all workers need a union.  We unionized because Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews of color have a united struggle — not just externally, through the work we do in the world, but also internally, through how we relate to each other in our own organizing. We unionized to insert ourselves in both the rich history of the Jewish socialist labor struggle and the Palestinian liberation movement. We unionized because Palestine is a labor issue. We unionized because liberation starts at home (and the workplace) and cannot happen without workers at the forefront.

As Palestinians, we have a long road to freedom. Our freedom struggle must include and work in coalition with the labor movement — and vice versa. The labor movement has undergone brutal repression over the last several decades and continues to face ongoing attacks. For the movement to succeed, it must be anti-racist, anti-imperialist, internationalist, and pro-Palestine. (The United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) has already taken a strong stance as the first ever national labor union in the US to endorse BDS.) Similarly, the Palestine solidarity movement cannot succeed unless we prioritize workers’ struggle, including our own. We must build relationships with other workers and progressive labor unions — joining workers on the picket lines, fighting against shared oppressors, and campaigning to divest from Israeli apartheid and global imperialism and invest in better lives for working people on this land. The labor movement and the Palestine solidarity movement have the same shared vision, and it is up to us to realize that vision together, from the US to Palestine. 

A Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) poster that reads “May First – Unity of the working class organizations guarantees the continuation of the revolution” (Image: The Palestine Poster Project Archives)

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